Golf Expert & Columnist
Padraig Harrington softens blow of Rory McIlroy's PGA Tour comments
Last Updated: 17/01/19 2:31pm
Trust Padraig Harrington to take the heat off Rory McIlroy.
Just when Rory seemed to be on his own stepping stone towards cultural exile in the USA, Padraig wrapped a European flag around him and told everyone to calm down.
The new Ryder Cup captain needed his best blarney to soften Rory's recent over-enthusiastic endorsement of the PGA Tour. Concerns Rory would give up membership of the European Tour and therefore miss out on the Ryder Cup were dismissed by Harrington.
"He's as European as they come, " said Padraig.
When pressed on why Rory was describing the European Tour as a stepping stone to America, the new captain said it was all about McIlroy being focused on winning the Masters.
Padraig acknowledged what Rory had said but described it as just words, not action. For the moment, then, anxiety on this side of the Atlantic seems to have eased but that will not last.
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Next time Rory's in front of the US media, the questions will start again and he will no doubt do what he usually does - answer them honestly and without filter.
It's an occupational hazard for people like him that spontaneous responses to reasonable questions sometimes emerge in public as pre-planned announcements.
Having said that, I think even Rory would accept there's sometimes an element of mischief on his part when he sees an opportunity to make, or even score, a point.
Certainly, at The Open in 2016, when he answered questions about not going to the Olympics, he raised eyebrows, and possibly blood pressures, by saying he probably would not watch the Games and did not think it was his job to grow the game of golf.
Some of us may have agreed with most of what he said, but there was clearly concern, even amongst those close to him, about the impact on his image as a world leader in sport.
In fact, Rory emerged from that controversy relatively unscathed and the same will most likely be the outcome of his latest verbal volley.
There's no doubt he could have chosen his words more carefully when he talked about the European Tour and asked: "Why would you play over there?"
Even taken in context, the remark probably precludes Rory from a future position in the diplomatic service. But I think we have to accept that what he's doing and saying is what he genuinely believes is best for himself.
Padraig Harrington - who has won only one major fewer than Rory - got that part of it immediately because he knows better than most the personal psychology of sport.
He recognised instantly Rory is totally focused on trying to win the Masters. Rory, himself, is convinced he is on exactly the right course and he's not too troubled about how he's perceived or how his comments are interpreted.
It's a bitter pill for the European Tour to swallow but Padraig Harrington handed them a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
Rory will be back on the European Tour at some point this year and, if Padraig's correct, he will definitely be on the Ryder Cup team for Wisconsin in 2020.
In the meantime, we have to maintain a sense of perspective. Let's enjoy January on the Desert Swing with a host of great players entertaining us in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
And let's not forget that Rory is not forsaking these events because he's fed up winning them. He's never won in Abu Dhabi, so there's an incentive right there for every player in the field.
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Meanwhile, in the USA, fascination with their new import will continue. A couple of American writers recently averred Rory McIlroy owes the European Tour nothing. Taking everything into consideration, I agree with them.
More than that, I feel we owe him a bit of patience and indulgence to try to finally get his win at Augusta National. If he can do that, his outlook will change and I'm sure he will be happy to pop over to Europe and show us his Green Jacket.